Film Review: ‘The Little Stranger’

Variety | 8/31/2018 | Guy Lodge
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“Moldy” is not generally an adjective most filmmakers would like to hear directed at their work, yet it applies, rather eerily and gorgeously, to “The Little Stranger.” Lenny Abrahamson and screenwriter Lucinda Coxon’s refined, deliberate adaptation of Sarah Waters’ neo-Gothic novel has the sense, in style and mood, of having been discovered in a neglected cupboard of a stately home not unlike the one in which it takes place, covered in mossy growth that has left an inerasable sage-green patina on the print. Its characters, too, are dusted down from an era distant from our own, yet it’s clear they creaked with dejection and disuse even in their supposed prime. “The Little Stranger” may be elegantly fashioned as a haunted-house thriller, but the relationships at its core are spooked by sadness well before things start to go bump in the night.

That may prove a commercial stumbling block to what is otherwise, for Abrahamson, a fine, form-expanding follow-up to the Oscar-approved “Room.” Genre fans in the market for some old-school horror may be surprised to find an undeniably unsettling but sober-sided human study of very English class conflict and aspirational desire, the light supernatural swirlings of which mostly work to aggravate more earthly crises of loneliness, grief and stiff-upper-lipped romance. Adult audiences looking past the gothic trappings, however, will be rewarded with a heritage drama as delicate as the cobwebs in its corners — set a tad off-balance by Domhnall Gleeson’s miscasting in the central role of a shy working-class doctor fixated on the tangled domestic woes of his poshest clients, but given a bruised, beating heart by the superb Ruth Wilson, as his wounded object of affection.

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